U.S. Expands Afghan Refugee Program to Cover Those Working With Media, Relief Groups

The U.S. State Department expanded a refugee program Monday to Afghans who worked with U.S.-based media organizations and relief groups, the Associated Press reported.

The department said that "many thousands" of Afghans and their immediate families will now have the opportunity to resettle in the U.S. permanently as refugees. It did not offer a more specific number.

"The U.S. objective remains a peaceful, secure Afghanistan. However, in light of increased levels of Taliban violence, the U.S. government is working to provide certain Afghans, including those who worked with the United States, the opportunity for refugee resettlement to the United States," said the State Department in their statement.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

U.S. Expands Refugee Program in Afghanistan
The U.S. State Department said that those who worked for U.S.-based media organizations and relief groups will be allowed access to resettle in the United States as permanent refugees. Afghan internally displaced families are pictured upon their arrival from the outskirts Kandahar, who fled due to the ongoing battle between Taliban fighters and Afghan security forces, at a refugee camp in Kandahar on July 27, 2021. Javed Tanveer/Getty Images

Current and former employees of the U.S. government and the NATO military operation who don't meet the criteria for a dedicated program for such workers are also covered.

The creation of a "Priority 2" category for Afghans within the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program is intended for Afghans and their immediate families who "may be at risk due to their U.S. affiliation" but aren't able to get a Special Immigrant Visa because they did not work directly for the U.S. government or didn't hold their government jobs long enough.

To qualify for the Priority 2 category, Afghans must be nominated by a U.S. government agency or by the most senior civilian U.S. citizen employee of a U.S-based media outlet or nongovernmental organization.

The first group of Afghan Special Immigrant Visa applicants — most of whom served as translators or did other work for U.S. troops or diplomats — who have cleared security vetting arrived in the U.S. on Friday. That group of 221 people are among 2,500 who will be brought to the U.S. in the coming days.

Another 4,000 SIV applicants, plus their families, who have not yet cleared the security screening are expected to be relocated to third countries ahead of the completion of the U.S. withdrawal. Roughly 20,000 Afghans have expressed interest in the program.

U.S. Expands Refugee Program in Afghanistan
Former workers who had been employed with U.S. troops at the Bagram airbase hold placards during a demonstration against the U.S. government in Kabul, Afghanistan, Friday, July, 9, 2021. Mariam Zuhaib/Associated Press